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I don’t think it’s any coincidence that this post popped up on the calendar for me to write this week. I schedule topics when I think of them, so this one was put on the schedule several weeks ago. When I scheduled it I had no idea that I was going to be needing the very post I was supposed to be writing.
When Life Hands You Lemons
Normally, I’m a lemonade from lemons kinda gal. For example, if I have a rare day that I don’t have any clients, I use the time to get ahead on my to-do list. I’ve even been known to write extra blog posts and because of that I now have a cushion of several weeks worth of posts. (Yay me!) I like to use everything to my advantage.
Yesterday, I had an amazing day off. It was one of those days that seem to go on forever… in a good way. A very good way. I got a little work done in the late morning and early afternoon, then spent the rest of the day playing games and watching movies with my husband. At dinner time, we cooked dinner, ate, and cleaned up together. Then we took a long walk in the perfect evening weather along a route filled with some of the sweetest smelling blossoms we’ve ever smelled. I was pretty sure nothing could kill that happy buzz. Ever.
This morning I woke in a decent mood and had a great coffee date with a friend who helped me get a good start on figuring out Instagram. I even managed to get make some good progress on her suggestions before noon. But after that, the day became somewhat depressing as I had no paying clients on my books. I could feel myself spiraling downward emotionally over things I had no control over. Zero. The only thing I had control over was my response to whatever life was throwing at me.
Time to make some lemonade, right? Right! The only problem is that today, for some reason, all of the lemonade I tried to make was on the bitter side. I desperately wanted to feel better, I just didn’t want to have to do anything to get there. What a huge difference from yesterday. What a difference from this morning, even. It’s a good thing I’m a tad on the stubborn side.
Doh! I Knew That
Eventually I decided to see if I could make some progress on a new blog post. When I opened the calendar and saw the topic and talking points I had scheduled to work on next I did a quick face palm. It was just what I needed to pull myself out of my funk. But why hadn’t I thought of this earlier? I mean, I know this stuff. I teach this stuff to clients. I write about this stuff right here on this very blog.
When things go well, like they did for me yesterday and this morning, it’s easy to be happy and optimistic. When life doesn’t meet our unrealistic expectation that nothing negative ever happen to us, it’s not so easy to maintain a positive outlook. In fact, it’s downright difficult. But it can be done.
Getting Your Happy On
So what did I do? Well, I started doing things that generally inspire the following emotions in me:
Joy – Joy is the antidote to stress and it’s been shown to lower pain perception as well. The biggest problem with this one might be figuring out what brings you actual joy, as opposed to the more subdued emotion of happiness. For instance, reading a good book makes me all kinds of happy, but listening to certain types of music makes my heart sing and my soul soar. In other words, books make me happy but music brings me joy. Joy is usually found in some sort of creative or imaginative pursuit like music, art, cooking, or gardening. Some people even find it with intense physical activity. It doesn’t matter what it is that brings you joy, all that matters is that you recognize it. You might even find that there are several things that bring you joy. In which case, yay you! Today, I (finally remembered to) put on some of my favorite joy-giving music. By the end of the second song, I noticed a marked decrease in stress, anxiety, and all around grumpiness. By the time the CD had played twice through, I was feeling back to my normal self.
Confidence – There are all kinds of confidence and you will need different types for different situations. This one’s a little difficult to develop on the fly, so you need to work on it during the good times. Today, I tapped into the confidence I have in my abilities as a massage therapist. I also tapped into my confidence in the Universe to provide; I remembered that there have been other days in my 13 year career when I’ve made no paying clients, but things have always worked out, usually way better than I anticipated/worried they would.
Calm – Remaining calm is crucial, whether you’re dealing with stress or pain. Freaking out, becoming anxious, or just being a little bit nervous deactivates the part of your brain that helps you come up with strategies to combat your pain or stress. There are many things that can help bring calm to your body and mind, including deep breathing, aromatherapy, meditation, relaxing yoga poses, and progressive relaxation exercises. Today, I tapped into my aromatherapy knowledge and pulled out a bottle of neroli essential oil. Neroli is one of the go to oils for stress and anxiety among many professional aromatherapists. I took a big whiff of it right out of the bottle and then put a drop on one wrist and rubbed it against my other wrist. Instant calming perfume.
Happiness – Happiness can be cultivated through simple things like gratitude. Gratitude is simple, but it isn’t always easy. While not as difficult to cultivate as confidence, it does take some practice to be able to do it during difficult, painful, or stressful times. Just make sure you don’t negate your gratitude with griping, as in “I’m grateful that my broken down, old-before-its-time body actually allowed me to get a little work done today before it sent me running for pain meds.” I don’t know about you, but that “gratitude” statement doesn’t feel very grateful to me, and certainly doesn’t leave me with a good feeling. Much better to just focus on the part you’re grateful for, as in “I’m grateful I was able to get tasks a, b, and c done today. That’s more than I’ve been able to do in a long time.” You don’t need to justify your gratitude or deny reality to be grateful, just leave the griping and negativity out of it. Today, I was truly grateful to have a supportive spouse, a stubborn streak as long as my German ancestry (i.e. I was persistent in trying to turn those lemons into lemonade), and a toolbox full of stress management tools.
Contentment – Contentment doesn’t just magically happen. It too must be cultivated just like gratitude, confidence, and joy. Contentment is the direct result of identifying and expressing your emotions in order to get your needs met. Today, I was feeling a bit depressed and really felt a need to feel safe and to be loved unconditionally in my depressed state without any attempts to fix anything. I accomplished this by spending time cuddling my two cats in turn (as long as they were down for it – which is never very long) and then getting my oxytocin fix (a hormone responsible for bonding and feeling safety/security) from my husband via several extremely long hugs totaling some 15-20 minutes total hug time.
The thing to remember about cultivating emotions to help you manage your stress and pain is that it is an active process. You can’t sit around wondering when you’re going to notice something to be grateful for; you’ve got to actively look for things to be grateful for until it becomes second nature. You’ve got to work on cultivating gratitude, joy, happiness, contentment, and confidence on good days and bad. Until it becomes easy on the good days. Until it becomes easy on the Meh days. Until you can actually use it on the bad days or even the really bad days.
That’s one of the reasons I talk about the same stress and pain management skills and tools in article after article, in slightly different contexts. The more you read about these tools, the more likely you are to put them to use. And the more you put them to use, the more likely it is that you’ll remember them when the big stresses or the worst pain strikes.
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